The complexities and risks of modern immigration are laid bare by recent events in Morocco.
Can't go on and can't go back: migrants find themselves trapped and at risk
This month, a girl of 16, on her way to the pharmacy, was stopped with her relatives by police in Tangiers. After harassing the group of women and destroying residency documents, the police detained the girl. Four of them them raped her before abandoning her in a forest.
This young woman had already fled violence in her home country, Côte d’Ivoire, as she reported to the Moroccan independent media website Lakome.com.
Because of its proximity to Spain, Morocco has many sub-Saharan migrants. They end up in Morocco for varied and complex reasons – many are fleeing violence or poverty, seeking a better life outside their home countries. While it is often assumed that migrants travel from developing to developed countries, human migration patterns are not so simple: often, it is poorer countries that bear the economic brunt of supporting refugees.
Like many developed nations, Spain is reluctant to encourage migration and tighter border security has become a bargaining tool in diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries.
According to the Moroccan Anti-racist Group for the Support and Defense of Foreigners and Migrants (Gadem), if they are captured by authorities in Morocco they are expelled, often beaten or left for dead in the desert with no food or water. If they possess identification or travel documents, these are usually destroyed. Without money or proper documentation, they are essentially stuck in Morocco, unable to continue travelling or to return home.
Doctors Without Borders, a French NGO that had been providing medical and psychological care to migrants in Morocco, halted its operations there in March. The organisation was overwhelmed with cases of abuse, sexual violence and physical and mental health conditions associated with extremely perilous living conditions. In a report, Violence, Vulnerability and Migration: Trapped at the Gates of Europe, it declared “the period since December 2011 has seen a sharp increase in abuse, degrading treatment and violence against sub-Saharan migrants by Moroccan and Spanish security forces”.
International conventions to protect the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and other migrants do not necessarily translate into enforceable national laws. Anti-immigration policies in Morocco classify the migrants as criminals, stripping them of rights and subjecting them to abuse. They are unlikely to come forward to report crimes or to seek medical attention for fear of retribution.
Spanish law requires that the authorities take foreigners intercepted at border areas to a police station and provide them with legal aid and an interpreter. However, this is rarely the case, as has been extensively documented in migrant testimonies to organisations such as Gadem and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH).
In the recent video Campaign 9: Stop Violence at the Borders, the brutality of the situation was documented by activists. They filmed a man, called Clément in the film, who had attempted to get into Spain, only to be driven back to Morocco by the Spanish Civil Guard. In Morocco he was beaten by police and later succumbed to his injuries.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees lists more than 34 million people under its “persons of concern” status, which encompasses any refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless people and others. The situation for migrants in Morocco is not just a Moroccan issue nor a Spanish issue but a global issue, a question of human rights and a question of international norms and responsibilities. For the sake of all who suffer, far from home and without legal protection, it is high time for the international community to scrutinise the legal frameworks for migration.